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San Diego Comic-Con 2006

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Highlights and selected coverage from San Diego Comic-Con International, July 19-23, 2006

Before you even attempt to contemplate going to an event like the Comic-Con, you first must master the art of patience. There are long lines to drive to the parking lot, long lines to park in the parking lot, long lines for every event, and long lines to get into other long lines. Despite the hectic human traffic flooding the halls of the enormous San Diego Convention Center, with enough planning and information, this event can be quite a worthwhile experience.

So if it is just a comic book convention why is a film website covering it? The Comic-Con isn’t just about comics any more – in fact, it is one of the biggest conventions for studios to reveal juicy details and footage for some of their highlighted projects for the upcoming year!

Eragon

In 2003, 20th Century Fox negotiated for the movie rights to the unexpectedly well-received fantasy novel “Eragon.” In 2005, production began on this epic dragon story with filming in five different countries. They quickly secured several astonishingly good actors including Jeremy Irons, Djimon Honsou, and John Malkovich. Both Industrial Light and Magic and Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop joined forces to begin designs of several of the prominent dragon characters, and are most recently tackling the creation of Sephira. The most difficult casting choice was of course the title character, Eragon; Edward Speleers who had very little previous acting experience was finally found after extensive searching and countless auditions. He was familiar with the book, and definitely a fan himself, and so was privileged and honored to be given the role of a lifetime. As a long time fan of other actors already cast, he was thrilled to discover how supportive the cast was, especially Jeremy Irons who took him under his wing.

Speleers had to to through grueling training, including three weeks in Hungary, involving archery, boxing, and sword fighting. He also studied crane and snake martial arts moves which most closely mimic the combat described and envisioned in the novel. Principal photography has recently wrapped, and Edward plans to enjoy vacationing with friends in Jamaica. He mentioned that he is extremely excited to see the film when it’s released; he’s desperate to see audience reactions and acceptance of the limitless potential of the fantastical phenomenon. Set to be released in December this year, “Eragon” is very highly anticipated and the lucky audience present at the Comic-Con panel reacted with hearty approval at the trailer edited specifically for this event. The story is designed to be a trilogy, so as the president of Fox mentioned, undoubtedly we will be seeing more of Alagacia, the mythical setting of Eragon.

Reno 911: Miami!

As a special surprise for the nearly packed 6500 seat Hall H amphitheater (the largest room in the convention center), the Washo County Police Department was represented by three of the hilarious cast members from Reno 911! including Lieutenant Jim Dangle, Travis Junior, and Trudy Wiegel. Promoting their new film with a trailer riotously edited to spoof the Miami Vice trailer, the bumbling squad is seen playing with metal detectors, feeding each other to x-ray machines, and patrolling the beaches while taking vernacular lessons from the most streetwise of the squad. Special scenes from the film were shown, including a mistaken 814 call (supposedly an armed person on a roof) that turns out to be a chicken running loose on the road, which after much delay and shenanigans, is promptly executed by gunfire from the entire unit. The three celebrities present stayed in character much to the delight of the fans, and harassed and joked with the presenter and scoffed at Fox for being a bunch of Hollywood Jews who exploit the movie by making fun of their hardworking group of officers. At one point Travis Junior demanded that the name of the film be changed to “Hero’s On Patrol” while holding a gun to the presenter’s head, and that “big-ass dragons” be digitally added to the film, which is due out early next year.

Children of Men

Guillermo Del Toro made a surprise appearance as the moderator for Alfonso Cuaron who arrived to discuss his new film Children of Men. The film takes place in 2027 where women are no longer able to bear children, and so the future of man is quickly coming to an end. The youngest man on Earth was recently murdered at the age of 18 during a riot at a cafe. Clive Owen and Julianne Moore join forces when a pregnant woman is discovered, who must bring her child safely to the Human Project with the aid of other freedom fighters. Although the film is futuristic and delves into Science Fiction themes, Cuaron specifically wanted the film to feel realistic and reflective of present day crises. There is definitely an immediacy and gritty feel behind some of the documentary style, long handheld camera takes.

The audience was treated to the opening scene as well as two additional scenes featuring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine, including a ten-minute long war scene in which there are no cuts, and a single hand-held camera is used to follow the intense action as Clive Owen is attacked by rebels and must flee across a street and into a building heavily guarded by enemy tanks. Dust, grit, and blood engulf the scene and fly into the camera, sticking to the lens to create a greater sense of realism and terror.

The film is based on the novel where the events are set in England, and is heavily influenced by the events of September 11th. Having the movie take place on an island allows for more realistic and sensible themes of isolation and separation. Clive Owen plays the anti-superhero who gets a second chance to redeem his crushing failures. Cuaron deems this film the “anti-Blade Runner” due to its futuristic vehicles made to look familiar, and where nothing feels alien; everything is designed to reiterate the feelings of repression and tolerance of present day including substantial references to current wars and media.

During the Q & A session, it was revealed that Michael Caine was specifically cast to appear as an “older John Lennon” and that the part was written with him in mind. It may very well be the first film in which he farts and smokes a joint onscreen. Cuaron also discussed a humorous communication error during the making of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in which he made notes to dictate a scene in which falling droplets of rain turn to ice as they’re falling around the Dementors flying in the clouds. Due to his accent the creative team thought he meant for rain drops to be turning into “eyes” and were in awe of his bizarre and macabre genius to create such a scene. Of course he later had to have them correct the storyboards and development when he discovered the miscommunication.

Borat

Sacha Baron Cohen was good enough to stop by portraying the title character from his upcoming film Borat. The film revolves around the mishaps of the ever popular Kazakhstan leader much in the same vein as the TV show. He made hilarious comments about Kazakhstan women, which included a segment about a superheroine from his country that could bear fourteen sons simultaneously, possessing twelve breasts, and having a mind control so powerful she could lock her own cage at the end of the day. The film will be released in November this year, and a lucky few got to see a special screening of the film Friday night. The audience at the panel was treated to a first look at the trailer and two full scenes from the film. The second scene shown contained oodles of full frontal, adult male nudity and was one of the most ridiculous and offensive sketches ever seen. I laughed so hard that I was in tears by the end of it, struggling to catch my breath.

Stardust

Neil Gaiman appeared for a panel discussing his new film Stardust starring Sienna Miller, Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro. Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) directs this mythical tale of a young man who ventures into a magical realm to retrieve a fallen star. He must confront various colorful characters including goblins, witches, faeries, gnomes and devious talking animals. The film is rumored to fill the same strains of comedy and fantasy that movies such as The Princess Bride and The NeverEnding Story were successfully able to do. Tom De Santo also joined the panel and they discussed another project in the works called Beowulf, which received a warm applause. To conclude their panel, Optimus Prime from the new Transformers movie voiced over a clip that introduced Peter Cullen (the original voice of the famous transformer for the TV show) returning to do the voice for Michael Bay’s highly anticipated film.

Accepted and King Kong Extended DVD

Tom Shadyac (director of Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) introduced Steve Pink and Justin Long as well as the majority of the main cast from the upcoming comedy Accepted. Lewis Black joined the ranks to massive applause and couldn’t help but yell that “if you don’t like the movie, shut the fuck up”. The film is about a high school burnout who after being rejected from countless colleges, is forced to create a fake university to fool his overzealous parents. Later that night the cast and filmmakers were throwing a 30 keg party with free beer and food. Unfortunately due to an underage member of our group, we were unable to contemplate attending. After a very brief Q & A the moderator rolled a clip of Peter Jackson driving in his SUV in the rain in Wellington Australia, promoting the new King Kong Extended Collector’s Edition DVD. With three discs, this version includes an additional 13 minutes of film added back in to the already overly long blockbuster, as well as 30 minutes of additional footage including other deleted scenes, and bloopers. There are 230 extra Weta CG shots examined and more commentaries and video and still galleries. The packaging looks grand, although like Gladiator, there will now be a one-disc, two-disc, and three-disc version available simultaneously. Overkill anyone?

Star Wars Update

Steve Sansweet led the Star Wars panel at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con and announced several of the newest Star Wars projects as well as providing some info on the controversial release of the original unedited Star Wars movies on Dvd due out this September. After showing us some humorous clips of badly damaged footage and horrifyingly large widescreen “black bars” he assured the crowd that the special features on the Special Edition discs of the uncut Star Wars Trilogy will be the highest quality transfers from the Laserdiscs. They will still be non-anamorphic, which was the main point of controversy and disapproval from a large portion of fans, but Sansweet guaranteed that the black bars would be barely noticeable.

Also due out in September to coincide with the Dvd release is the sequel to the wildly popular Lego Star Wars video game and Lego Star Wars II will feature the events from the original trilogy. The game will still include the ability to destroy and rebuild items and surroundings to recreate the feel of actual Legos but will add an interesting new feature allowing players to mix and match heads and bodies of their favorite characters to create such oddities as Darth Leia and Yoda Fett.

Sansweet also announced the parade of the 501st Stormtrooper unit (Vader’s most elite squad) at the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, CA. Amongst the hundreds of marching Stormtroopers, two Star Wars floats will be included that will embody the worlds of Naboo and Endor.

In May of 2007 Star Wars Celebration IV will take place and include several notable guest appearances as well as the first ever 24-hour Star Wars store allowing fans to purchase collectibles and memorabilia at any time during the event. Sansweet also revealed that in 2008 a new animated Star Wars television series would arrive and follow events late in the Clone Wars. While he was unable to provide any footage, he guaranteed us that it would be unlike anything we’d ever seen before. To round out the presentation he revealed some footage from the upcoming Star Wars and Indiana Jones video games for the next generation consoles. The Star Wars game promised some new and extreme ways of using the force, including mercilessly throwing enemies around in the air, force lightning, and causing explosions and shockwaves with the force.

In the upcoming Indiana Jones title, a new artificial intelligence was used called “Euphoria” where the in-game character will be able to react and learn from previous reactions without any help from the player. No two reactions will ever be the same as a demo showed Indy throwing bad guys against cars and walls without ever falling down the same way twice. A humorous demonstration of Euphoria’s capabilities showed Indiana trying to maintain his balance on a rope bridge (much like the one seen in Temple of Doom). Without any guidance from the player, Indy was able to teeter back and forth and regain his balance when certain portions of the bride were jostled. When the bridge was shaken hard enough to knock Indy off, the character instinctively grabbed the side and hung on for dear life. In the next demonstration, small rocks were hurtled at Jones to show that his reaction to each hit was different. Then large rocks were tossed at the unfortunate adventurer until he fell over and could no longer get up (which resulted in uproarious laughter from the audience). With the greatly enhanced AI and effects, both games look to be must-have titles for the next generation systems.

The Chronicles of Narnia 4-disc Extended DVD

Producer Mark Johnson headed up the panel for the “Disney Previews: From Narnia to the Caribbean” presentation which began with discussions of the new 4-disc Collector’s Edition DVD to be released in December. It will include a documentary about C.S. Lewis, as well as a documentary about Visualization and Special Effects, commentaries, and making-of features. It was also discussed that filming of Prince Caspian will begin in January of 2007. Obviously the films are being made out of order due to the impossibility of filming with the same child actors after they’ve grown up too much. While The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe contained nearly 1600 FX shots, it was predicted that Prince Caspian will easily contain 1800-2000 FX shots. Andrew Adamson appeared via a video clip where he was able to mention that the film is scheduled for release in the summer of 2008.

Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest

John Knoll, Visual Effects Supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic introduced the next segment about the creation of Davy Jones, the antagonist from the second Pirates of the Caribbean film, and one whom is felt to be the most sophisticated and technologically advanced character ILM has ever created. Before Knoll delved into the behind the scenes features of designing Davy Jones, a trailer for the third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was shown, causing much salivation and anticipation for the exciting conclusion. Some of the principal notes that director Gore Verbinski created for the ILM team to design Davy Jones included knowing that: 1. Davy Jones and his crew would be all CG 2. No transitions would be necessary; CG characters stayed CG the entire time 3. Better motion reference would be needed for Davy and his crew 4. Everything must happen on set; there won’t be time to go back and film more stuff As the first step to addressing some of the concerns, iMOCAP (on set low footprint motion capture) was created, a revolutionary software that has no lighting or camera restrictions, and can be done with the use of only two witness cameras. It can also be used for multiple characters, and revolves around the use of a motion capture-like suit. The software itself is key, as it is extremely advanced and can basically work miracles.

Verbinski was also concerned about the animation of Jones’ tentacle beard. ILM knew that they must have animation control over most of his tentacles, but as his face consists of 42 separate tentacles, the movement must be procedural, since animating all of them individually would have been ultimately too time-consuming and complex. They knew that a rigid engine needed to be built to support joint motors, and that that engine also needed to support stickiness. The tentacles should preserve volume, and should look fleshy and be able to stretch naturally. Layer after layer of facial controls were set up to maintain the shape, volume, flexibility, stickiness and movement of the tentacle beard. The making-of presentation was greatly informative and a treat to watch as we were shown images from the starting point all the way to the final cut. And of course thrown in were technical bloopers in which cloth deformations and tentacle miscalculations caused some unusual and entertaining errors, as well as a Davy Jones motion capture crew bonus dance sequence done for fun. To all of you who were unsure whether or not Bill Nighy’s real eyes were used in the film, the answer is no. It was originally a chief concern of Verbinski’s that the character’s eyes remain as real and recognizable as possible. As a contingency plan, Knoll asked that makeup be added to Bill’s eyes so they could use them if necessary. Fortunately they didn’t have to, as CG eyes were created that mimicked Nighy’s performance perfectly, and additionally allowed for better lighting and clarity.

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